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Can a profitable business model

be applied to podcasting?

Jonathan Deamer

Arts, Music and Entertainment Management

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

May 2008

© Jonathan Deamer 2008, Some Rights Reserved

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Many thanks are due to a number of parties for their invaluable help and support in the
writing of this Management Research Paper, including:

All those who gave their time to be interviewed as part of my research

My friends, work colleagues and family
Phil Saxe and all LIPA's management lecturers

And anyone who's endured me talking at great length about RSS, the Long Tail,
asynchronous media and innumerable other buzzwords...

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1. Introduction

2. Literature review
2.1 Podcasting
2.1.1 Definition
2.1.2 Podcasting vs. radio: key arguments
2.1.3 Popularity and adoption of podcasting
2.2 Business models
2.2.1 Definition of “business model”
2.2.2 Definition of “profitable”
2.2.3 “Free” business models
2.2.4 Common internet business models
2.3 Podcasting, broadcast and new media business models
2.3.1 How the above business models have been applied to podcasting

3. Methodology
3.1 Research philosophy
3.2 Research approach and methods
3.3 Preparations
3.4 Interview style
3.5 Analysis and interpretation of data
3.6 Which business models should be evaluated?
3.7 A framework for research

4. Findings and analysis

4.1 General
4.2 Merchant model
4.3 Labour exchange model
4.4 Advertisement-based model
4.5 Commission model
4.6 Subscription model

5. Conclusions
5.1 General
5.2 Merchant model
5.3 Labour exchange model
5.4 Advertisement-based model
5.5 Commission model
5.6 Subscription model
5.7 Summary of conclusions

6. Bibliography

7. Appendices

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This paper investigates the issue of whether a profitable business model can be applied to
the medium of podcasting. It suggests a variety of potential business models that may be
appropriate, and evaluates how they be may applied in this new arena.

The literature review explains the parallels between podcasting and other more traditional
media, paying particular attention to radio, which is deemed to be the most similar existing
medium. The popularity and adoption of podcasting both among the public and media
organisations indicate that now is an appropriate time for an investigation into the
economics of podcasting. An outline is given of existing business models that have set a
precedent both on the Internet and in other forms of media, as well as the wider world.
There are a number of examples of how people have previously attempted to apply these
business models to podcasting.

The methodology details that the practical research used qualitative research methods.
Semi-structured interviews with key producers of podcasts were to be carried out in order
to gather data for analysis. Podcast producers were chosen as the most appropriate
interviewees from a large potential research base, although the findings indicate that
during the course of research it became necessary to also interview podcasting experts
from other related fields. The most appropriate business models for investigation are
selected from the large number detailed in the literature review.

Key topics in the paper's findings include discussion of whether it is appropriate to

monetise podcasts in the first place, as well as whether a single model can be applied to all
podcasts across a range of content and contexts. There is rarely full unanimity among
interviewees, and although all were aware of many of the issues affecting the medium, it is
shown that more thought is necessary on the topic from those in the industry.

In conclusion, details are given of which have been found to be the most appropriate
models, and how the negative impact of monetisation on audience figures can be
minimised, thus maximising potential profitability.

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1. Introduction

I have always been interested, both personally and academically, in business, technology
and the world of arts and entertainment. When presented with the opportunity of writing
this Management Research Paper, I saw it as a chance to further investigate the
relationships between these three disparate fields.

Furthermore, it has come at a time of great and well-documented upheaval in the

entertainment industry. It is almost trite to say that digitisation is having a profound effect
in the music sector, while new methods of broadcasting and distribution are changing the
way arts and entertainment media is consumed in general. One of the ways these
phenomena have been most evident in my own life is that a large amount of the
performing arts content that I enjoy, be it comedy, music or drama, now comes to me via
the relatively new medium of podcasting.

I have become quite an advocate of this medium and have noticed that while many
broadcasters, content producers and media organisations have embraced it by launching
their own podcasts, few have been able to do so as a commercial venture in its own right.
While academics and the press have looked in depth at alternatives to physical music
retail, I've come across few who have addressed the question of how the broadcast media
business model may be applied in a digital economy, and consequently how performing
arts managers and practitioners can continue to make money from the content they
produce if it is to be distributed via podcast.

In this Paper I hope to have gone some way to highlighting the issues surrounding this
question and begun to move towards a solution that arts and entertainment managers can
apply in a real and practical way.

Jonathan Deamer

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2. Literature review
It should be acknowledged that much of the available literature on podcasting was written
soon after the medium first came to prominence in 2004. The earliest sources relating to
podcasting in this Paper's bibliography date from around this time, when the term was first
coined by Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley (2004), who is also interviewed as part of
this Paper's research. Since then coverage of the topic has been less frequent, so sources
for basic definitions and descriptions of podcasting are abundant, while those discussing
its development in a commercial context are less so.

2.1 Podcasting

2.1.1 Definition
When the term “podcast” was hailed as Word of the Year 2005 by the New Oxford
American Dictionary, it was defined as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar
program, made available on the internet for downloading to a personal audio player” (BBC
2005 i). This definition is correct, and suitable for standard use, but needs some
important qualifiers to further explain the way in which the term is to be used in this

Many of the podcasts available consist of content that is also distributed via traditional
radio broadcast mechanisms, eg. a BBC Five Live show may be made available both in the
traditional way via FM broadcast, as well as by podcast for listening at the users' leisure.
However, an important factor to remember is that the production and distribution of
podcasts is not restricted to those in the traditional radio broadcast arena. Indeed, many
of the most popular podcasts are produced by newspapers, media personalities, bands,
record labels and similar, all independent of traditional broadcast companies. In terms of
the sort of content available in a podcast, however the radio analogy is a good one: speech-
only programs, music, news bulletins or any sort of content one may hear on traditional
radio are all available via podcast.

Part of the reason for this broad range of content providers is the fact that podcasting is
something of a democratic medium - it has fewer barriers to entry than traditional radio.
Indeed, the BBC has described it as “DIY radio” that can be “done by anyone who has a
microphone, simple software, the net, and something to say” (2005 ii), casting podcasting

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in a similar light to the User Generated Content phenomenon seen in areas such as
blogging or homemade videos on services like YouTube. However, this Management
Research Paper will not look at podcasts in the User Generated Content sense – a whole
paper could itself be written on the monetisation of user generated content – but instead
non-independent ones, described by the UK Podcasters Association as those affiliated to
“national newspapers, mainstream publications or media channels” (2007). Exceptions
will be made, however, for particularly noteworthy examples of User Generated Content,
such as those already referenced in previous podcasting literature (see section 2.3.1).
Furthermore, there is a range of variations on the podcasting formula, including
technologies like videocasting and phonecasting. While it is recognised that these are
important pieces of the whole new media puzzle, this paper is to concentrate primarily on
audio-only podcasting to personal computers (which can then be moved to other devices,
as discussed later), as this is the medium that has proved to be most popular so far and,
consequently, is most ready for monetisation.

As hinted at previously, an element of podcasting that is not included in the New Oxford
American Dictionary definition is that it is an asynchronous medium. Unlike traditional
radio, as The Economist explains “podcasting is about 'time-shifting' (listening offline to
something at a time of one's own choosing, as opposed to a broadcaster's)” (2006). This
effectively provides a form of on-demand radio which, as we shall see later, has an
important impact on any proposed business model.

A further misleading element of the definition given above is that it implies a podcast is
always downloaded to a personal audio player. This is not the case. A podcast is initially
downloaded to a personal computer. It can then be consumed at this computer itself if the
user wishes. Indeed, TDG Research has found that “more [than] 80% of podcast
downloads never make it to a portable player or another device - they are consumed on the
PC [to which they were initially downloaded]” (2006). Alternatively, it can be transferred
to a personal media player (MP3 player or similar) for listening away from the computer.

Podcasts are made available to consumers either as a direct download from the website of
the content provider (such as the BBC), or via an online portal or directory such as A popular way to receive podcasts on an automated basis is via what is
known as an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed in conjunction with a piece of

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“podcatcher” software (Apple's iTunes can provide this function). While it is beyond the
scope of this paper to go into the technical details behind this, in essence it is a way to
notify and automatically deliver to the user a new podcast (eg. a new episode in a series)
whenever it is made available. This is similar to the more familiar “series link” function on
television hard-disk recorders such as Sky+.

2.1.2 Podcasting vs. radio: key arguments

As a primarily audio-based medium that offers a similar variety of content to radio, it is

evident that a number of parallels can be drawn between podcasting and its more
traditional counterpart. Furthermore, some have speculated that podcasting may have a
profound impact on the audience numbers of traditional radio (Business Week 2005, The
Economist 2006, Whitbread in BBC 2007, Wired 2005). The Economist discusses the
myriad benefits of podcasting to the listener (some of which are outlined below), including
prominently in this list the fact that “podcasts liberate listeners from advertising, and thus
put an end to the tedious and dangerous toggling between the car radio's pre-set buttons at
100km an hour” (2006). While it does note that some podcasters are experimenting with
putting advertisements into their podcasts, it is worth noting that, while still not
widespread this has become a more marked phenomenon in the two years since the article
was written. In its conclusion it states that:

“The effects on radio, while not lethal, will therefore be large. Radio broadcasters
understand that they need to make commercial radio less disagreeable to listen to,
which above all means shorter advertising interruptions”.
“Heard on the street”, The Economist (20th April 2006)

This point of view that much of podcasting's success so far has been due to a lack of adverts
will be key to bear in mind when implementing a business model around the medium.

One of the key benefits that podcasts offers to the consumer over traditional radio is that
they are available on demand and easily time-shifted, as outlined in section 2.1.1 above.
This has been called “the most important aspect of podcasting” by Mary Madden, of the
Pew Internet & American Life Project (Knowledge@Wharton [sic] 2005).

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However, the fact that it is not a live medium is also described by The Economist as “one of
the limiting factors of podcasting” (2006). This negative side of time-shifting is expanded
upon by podcasting pioneer Adam Curry in the same article, saying “if they find Osama bin
Laden, don't go running to your iPod” (The Economist 2006).

Another characteristic of podcasts is that they are accessible by a wider variety of people
than traditional radio. Even with the gradual move from analogue to digital signals,
television and radio broadcasts are still very much affected by geography. This is of course
not as much of an issue when offering content over the internet. A key benefit of this wider
accessibility is that is allows podcasts to cover much more niche topics than would be
viable in the traditional media. While a show on quite an obscure subject matter may only
be accessible to a handful of interested people if it were broadcast on local FM radio, with
podcasting it is made available to potentially all interested parties (with internet access)
worldwide .

US broadcaster NBC has also suggested that the availability of radio shows via podcast may
make the idea of stations or channels redundant by “bypassing the current structure of
radio” (2004). Radio stations have previously operated as a way of grouping similar
content together, but podcasts allow users to cherry-pick whatever content they want,
regardless on the station it was originally broadcast on or associated to. NBC again says,
“think of [a selection of podcasts] as a personalized radio station that you program and
change whenever you want” (2004).

2.1.3 Popularity and adoption of podcasting

Although the DIY radio side of podcasting described above is still thriving, since the
medium's initial adoption by amateurs it has become more frequently used by traditional
broadcasters and media outlets. For example, some of the “Featured Providers” listed in
the Podcast section of the iTunes music store are:
 Channel 4
 Disney Online
 National Geographically

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 Sky News
 The Wall Street Journal
(iTunes 2008)

This brief list of some of the organisations involved in podcasting is included as part of this
literature review in order to assuage any doubts that podcasting is not yet ready as a
medium to be monetised. It is used by a wide variety of commercial, profit-making
entities, and so it is an appropriate time in the medium's life for an academic analysis of its
potential as a revenue source.

Further, according to Edison Media Research the most recent statistics available showing
the uptake of podcasting by consumers suggest that as of mid-2007, 13% of Americans had
listened to a podcast (2007). This is a 2% increase on the 2006 statistics. While one must
not jump to conclusions about the global uptake of podcasting based on these limited
statistics, it does show that podcasting is moving away from the niche interest it once was.

2.2 Business models

It should be noted that in this section, a variety of existing business models as used in
various fields and discussed in the available literature will be detailed. While their
relevance to podcasting or the wider entertainment economy may not be immediately
apparent, they are included here to provide the basis of a framework which will be built
upon in this paper's Methodology to ensure that no model that may be applicable to
podcasting will be overlooked.

2.2.1 Definition of “business model”

As such a commonly used phrase, “business model” has come to mean a variety of things to
a variety of people, and so it is appropriate at this stage to clarify exactly what is meant by
the term throughout this Management Research Paper.

In Internet Business Models and Strategies, Afuah and Tucci describe a business model as
“the method by which a firm builds and uses its resources to offer its customers better
value than its competitors and how to make money doing so” (2003). Among the key
elements of a complete business model they include such disparate parts as customer
value, sustainability, implementation, scope and revenue models. Later in the same book's

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“taxonomy of business models” Afuah and Tucci claim that there are seven main types of
business model, distinguished primarily by their use of different revenue models (to be
detailed later in this literature review). There are then sub-categories within each of those
seven main types which are differentiated by the variety of other factors they suggest make
a comprehensive business model.

It is obvious from this that there is more to a business model than simply how it makes
money. Given the restrictions presented by this paper's deadline and word limit, however,
it will concentrate on what Afuah and Tucci have shown to be the main distinguishing
factor of different business models: the revenue model.

2.2.2 Definition of “profitable”

The Oxford English dictionary gives two main definitions of profitable:
1. yielding “advantage or benefit”
2. yielding “financial gain”

While it is understood that it may be possible for a podcast to provide non-monetary profit
(eg. “advantage or gain”, such as if a podcast were used as a marketing tool), this paper will
take profit to mean “financial gain”, ie. providing a revenue stream in its own right, as
opposed to solely providing non-monetary value such as promotion or goodwill. It is
acknowledged however that some organisations may intend their podcast productions to
be both marketing tools and profit making ventures, and so the affect monetisation has on
the use of podcasts as promotional tools will have to be considered.

2.2.3 “Free” business models

Chris Anderson suggests in an article in Wired magazine (2008) that recent years have
seen a rise in what he calls “free business models”. He explains this concept as providing a
product to the consumer at zero cost as a business model in itself, citing the example of
search engine Google (free to the end user, but profiting from the business-to-business sale
of advertising space alongside its search results) as a key proponent of this idea.

It can be claimed that this is not a new concept, and Anderson admits that this is very
similar to the traditional media business model (eg. free to air radio or television funded by
advertisements). He does, however, suggest that the web allows the extension of the media

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business model to industries of all sorts, in more sophisticated ways that advertisement-
funded content alone. The free economy can be broken down into six main broad
 Advertising – based on the principle that “free offerings build audiences with
distinct interests and expressed needs that advertisers will pay to reach”, this can be
as readily applied to new media as old.
 “Freemium” - in essence, offering a basic level of service or content for free, with
more content-rich or feature-packed versions of the products available on a tiered
pricing system (perhaps using one of the revenue models suggested by Afuah and
Tucci below).
 Cross-subsidies – Anderson describes this as “any product that entices you to pay
for something else”, equating it to the concept of loss-leaders in the traditional retail
sector. An example of this in the online sector would be Radiohead offering their
album for free, in the hope that it will encourage people to buy tickets to their live
 Zero-marginal cost - “where the product has become free because of sheer
economic gravity, with or without a business model”, such as the way music has
become (in many senses) free - legally or not - due to market forces.
 Labour exchange – where the act of using a free service or product creates
something of value that can be monetised elsewhere. For example, Google offers a
free directory enquiries service accessible via a telephone voice recognition system.
While using this service, the end user is in fact providing voice data that is used in
testing and calibrating further voice-recognition based technologies from Google
that can later be monetised in their own right.
 Gift economy – according to Anderson, with the growth of the Internet “we are
discovering that money isn't the only motivator [...] altruism has always existed, but
the web gives it a platform where the actions of individuals can have global impact”,
giving examples of websites like Wikipedia as being truly free, with no-one making a
direct monetary profit.

2.2.4 Common internet business models

As touched upon above, according to Afuah and Tucci, the seven primary online business
models as distinguished by their dominant revenue models are as follows:

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 Commission – a commission is “a fee levied on a transaction by a third party”
(2003), and this revenue model relies on such fees as a main source of income.
 Advertising – already discussed and, interestingly, the only model that is repeated
from those suggested by Anderson above.
 Markup – described by Rappa in Business Models on the Web as the “merchant
model” (2002) due to its prevalence in wholesale and retail, this refers to value
added in sales, eg. buying a finished product from a manufacturer and selling it to
the public or another organisation at an increased price.
 Production – in which “the company transforms raw materials into a higher-value
product” (2003). Although the way that this can be applied to a internet economy
may not at first be obvious, Laudon and Traver give the example of manufacturers
selling custom-built products directly to end-user customers, in the way Dell does
with computers (2006).
 Referral – based on collecting a fee for steering potential customers to another
company (eg. in the online economy, for following a link to another company's
website). This can either be a flat fee per referral, regardless of whether it leads to a
sale or not (“pay-per-click”), or a percentage of the revenues from any resulting sale.
 Subscription – under a subscription-based model, a flat rate is charged on a
periodic basis for a pre-agreed amount of product or service. This revenue model is
used in a variety of sectors, from magazine subscriptions to mobile phone tariffs.
 Fee-for-service – as with the markup model, the fee-for-service model is given a
different name by Rappa: “the utility model” (2002). This is perhaps a more
appropriate name given that it is based on metering the amount of a service used by
a consumer, and billing them appropriately dependent on the specific customers
personal usage patterns.

It should be noted that Afuah and Tucci themselves describe the information above as “a
synthesis of the literature on business models” (2003) and acknowledge a debt to the Paul
Timmers' “seminal” work Business Models For Electronic Markets, and the
aforementioned Michael Rappa. The works of Timmers and Rappa have been considered
during the writing of this literature review and, given that their most salient ideas are
incorporated in the above (both according to Afuah and Tucci and my own observations),
Afuah and Tucci's summary will be used as an outline for online business models
throughout this paper.

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2.3 Podcasting, broadcast and new media business models

2.3.1 Examples of how the above business models have been applied to

It should be noted that although there are many examples of where some of the models
described above have been implemented, the specific examples given below have been
chosen as they have attracted an amount of coverage and discussion suitable for this
literature review.

Ricky Gervais (subscription model)

In the Guardian's Media Talk podcast (2007), the paper's Media Editor Matt Wells said
“Ricky Gervais has been the model that everyone holds up as being successful in terms of
subscription-based podcasting”. Online music store iTunes does not currently support the
purchase of podcasts, instead only offering those available for free, so the show was
therefore made available through online retailer, whose core business is the
sale of downloadable audiobooks. At a cost of $7/month in the USA and £4/month in the
UK, subscribers were able to download one half-hour show per week (Harris 2006).

The Dawn and Drew Show (sponsorship)

An example of where the sponsorship-based podcasting model has been used is in Durex's
teaming up with comedy podcast the Dawn and Drew show – a sponsorship which has
been said to have lead to a three-fold increase in the number of visitors to the company's
website (Restivo 2005).

Marketing strategist and Senior Vice President at Edelman, the world's largest
independent PR firm, Steve Rubel says of podcast sponsorships:

"[they are] a throwback to the Golden Age of Radio when a single company would
sponsor an entire hour of variety programming. Such sponsorships might closely
resemble TV product placements where the ads become part of the content in some
meaningful way. For example, it’s possible a podcast sponsor might be able to
embed a full audio news release right into a program, provided it is consistent with

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the show’s content."
(Rubel 2004)

Indeed, Crofts et al go so far as to say that “sponsorships tend to be less intrusive than
advertising, [which] makes sponsorships of podcasts more acceptable to listeners” and
even that “well–matched sponsorships can appear to be quirky, fun, or subversive to
listeners” (2005) – perhaps Durex's sponsorship can be seen as an example of a well
matched “quirky” sponsorship for a comedy podcast aimed at young people.

Virgin Radio (advertising)

As a model many broadcasters and media sources are already comfortable with,
advertising was adopted by some podcasters relatively early in the life of the medium. In
2005, it was announced that "Virgin Radio has become the first commercial radio station
to create a podcast, making highlights from the Pete & Geoff breakfast show, along with
advertising [...] the Home Office police specials campaign, and online travel agent Expedia
are the first two ‘podcast’ advertisers" (Whitehead 2005).

Although very similar to sponsorship, it is worth making a distinction between sponsorship

from straightforward advertising. Compared to the above suggestions that podcast
listeners may be receptive and even welcoming of interesting sponsorship arrangements,
former IBM media and entertainment consultant Griffith Jones says that "for radio,
people are used to advertising, but when it comes to podcasting and they have to go
through the trouble of downloading it and uploading it into their mobile device, I tend to
think people will be less tolerant" (Logan 2005).

However, there is also the argument that because of the narrowly-focused nature of
podcasts and their subject matter as discussed in section 2.1.3 above, advertisements will
be better matched to the interests of listeners. This may mean that listeners will therefore
be more receptive to adverts in podcasts than in traditional media (Crofts et al 2005).
There are further problems though with both the fact that podcasts allow users to skip over
adverts by fast-forwarding, and that the initial attraction to podcasts for many (as
suggested by The Economist in section 2.1.3) is that they were at first advertisement-free.
These criticisms of adverts within podcasts could also be applied to sponsorship.

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3. Methodology

3.1 Research philosophy

This Management Research Paper will take a phenomenological approach, as opposed to a
positivist one. Phenomenology is described by Swetnam as “an extreme subjectivist,
qualitative mode of enquiry” (1997), as opposed to the positivist approach which requires
“quantifiable observations that lend themselves to statistical analysis” (Saunders et al
2000). While financial data showing the relative successes of various podcasting revenue
models would easily lend itself to a positivist approach, this paper is to deal with ideas for
the future that have not yet been fully implemented, and so there is no quantifiable data of
this sort that is suited to this sort of statistical analysis.

Phenomenology, on the other hand, allows the examination of social trends and industry
thought - what Saunders calls “the details of the situation [in order] to understand the
reality [...] working behind them” (2000). Given that this approach is more based on
qualitative data it is useful for discussing topics such as whether consumers will be
accepting of a particular method of podcast monetisation. It is obvious that a positivist
approach is not suitable for this sort of study of consumer thought and behaviour that
requires subjective interpretation of the data available. Such an interpretative approach is
said by Riley et al to be particularly suited to situations of a “variable rather than fixed
nature” (2000). It could be said that consumer preferences – as opposed to something as
black and white as financial data – is one of these variable situations.

3.2 Research approach and methods

As there is little academic research about podcasting at present, and very few theories
governing the medium, I will be using what is known as an inductive approach. Saunders
et al describe this approach as one which “collect[s] data and develop[s] theory as a result
of the data analysis” (2000) This is as opposed to the deductive approach commonly used
in scientific research, which is governed by pre-existing rules that “provide the basis of
explanation” (2000).

Further, as this paper sets out to approach a solution to an issue that exists now, a cross-
sectional approach will be used. This will involve, as Saunders et al explain, “the study of a
particular phenomenon at a particular time” (2000) compared to a longitudinal approach

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that looks at changes and development in the area of study over a period of time. In
addition to the obvious time restrictions on this paper due to its deadline, a longitudinal
approach is not appropriate as it is hoped that this paper will provide some degree of
guidance to podcasters as to how business models may be applied in future. A longitudinal
approach may be less useful for this as it would involve watching the organic development
of podcast business models, rather than using research to come to quicker conclusions.

As indicated by Swetnam's assertion above regarding the phenomenological approach, this

paper's research will be primarily, if not wholly, qualitative. This will take the form of
semi-structured interviews with people knowledgeable about podcasts (exactly which
people is expanded upon in section 3.6, below). A more quantitative approach was
rejected as Corbin and Strauss say that this style of research is too shallow to allow
understanding of cultural values and social behaviour which “require interviewing or
extensive field observation” (1998) of the sort that occurs with a qualitative approach. This
is especially pertinent given the extent to which this paper is to discuss consumer
behaviour, as outlined previously.

Regardless of what experts say during interviews, the success of any particular business
model will of course be dependent on consumer reaction to and acceptance of it. For this
reason, gathering information from lay consumers was considered as part of this Paper's
research methodology. Both focus groups and more quantitative methods such as surveys
were considered. Eventually though, the idea of using consumers as part of a research base
at all was rejected. It was felt that public knowledge of podcasting is not sufficient enough
to provide any useful feedback beyond that which any expert might reasonably assume the
consumer would make. Furthermore, surveys of any sort would prove somewhat difficult.
Given the global nature of podcasting, the range of topics covered by podcasts, and the
consequently hugely varied demographics involved (as well as the aforementioned
suspected lack of knowledge amongst the public) it would be difficult to create a
representative sample for surveys/questionnaires to use in this way.

In addition, a method of direct observation or case study was considered early on in the
planning of this Paper. It was felt, however, that podcast business models are at such an
early stage of development that a case study could only provide a limited amount of insight
into what the future may hold.

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3.3 Preparations
The main preparation for the interviews is the research that has been included in the
literature review. However, when interviews have been confirmed further preparation will
take place by reading up about the interviewee's organisation and any podcasting activities
he or she is involved with. Furthermore, interviewees will be prepared so that they fully
understand the purpose and aims of the interview by being briefed on my MRP via e-mail
before the interview takes place.

3.4 Interview style

Interviews will be conducted in person if possible as this allows for collection of data other
than an interviewee's verbal responses to questions, such as body language or facial
expressions. However, this may not always be possible for logistical reasons, and so in
these cases phone interviews will be conducted. This is of course not ideal as disallows the
collection of the above non-verbal responses, but will have to suffice if it is all that is
available. E-mail, online messenger and similar will be avoided if at all possible as, in
addition to the disadvantages of telephone interviews, they do not even show the subtleties
or nuances in tone of the human voice. Further, e-mail is an asynchronous medium, which
may allow interviewees too much time to think about their answers. This could result in
answers being less truthful or accurate than they would otherwise be as interviewees
attempt to be diplomatic or give what they perceive as a correct answer, rather than what
they truly believe.

Interviews will be tape recorded in order to ensure accurate transcription, and to allow the
interviewers to concentrate on questioning and taking part in the interview. However,
notes will also be taken on any particular body language or non-audible factors of the
interview that may be relevant. It is recognised however that use of a tape recorder may
inhibit the interviewee to some extent, and this will have to be taken into account in this
paper's Findings.

The semi-structured interview technique described in section 3.2 will primarily consist of
explaining each potential business model to interviewees and discussing their thoughts on
and reactions to it. The interviewer will endeavour not to bias the interviewee by
discussing the interviewer's own view before having heard the interviewees. Easterby-

Jonathan Deamer – 18

Smith et al also suggest that this end can be achieved by asking open questions (1996)
although subsequent probing questions will also be asked in follow-up in order to ensure
answers of sufficient depth are obtained. Easterby-Smith et al give examples of ways this
can be done as simply repeating the initial question, or repeating the interviewee's answer
in their own words (1996).

3.5 Analysis and interpretation of data

Main analysis will include transcription and thorough reading and re-reading of
interviews, attempting to find patterns in the interviewee's answers and relating any such
patterns to the potential business models outlined in framework suggested by the
literature review and summarised at the end of this Methodology. This will be based on
the summary given by Riley et al (2000) of the seven main stages of the method of working
with interview transcriptions put forth by Easterby-Smith et al (1996). These stages
include familiarisation (“read and re-read data” (Riley 2000)), reflection (“establishing
relationships between your data and previous research” (Riley 2000)) and
conceptualisation, as well as the cataloguing and linking of concepts.

It should also be noted that of the two main ways of analysing qualitative data suggested by
Easterby-Smith et al (1996) – content analysis and grounded theory – the latter has been
chosen. This is because Easterby-Smith et al describe it as using “feel and intuition,
aiming to produce common or contraditctory themes and patterns from the data which can
be used as a basis for interpretation” (1996). Content analysis's reliance on the frequency
and recurrence of certain words and phrases is not, it could be argued, well matched to the
interpretative phenomenological research philosophy described above that deals in
subjects that Riley et al say are “variable rather than fixed nature” (2000).

3.6 Research base

An initial analysis of the research base showed that there were potential interviewees
across a range of varied sectors related to podcasting. It was thought that interviews with
people from the following areas may be useful:
 Digital distributors/retailers – online retailers such as iTunes (Apple) or digital
distributors like The Orchard, although not producers of podcasts themselves, could
play a key role, and potentially stand to gain from, a profitable podcast business

Jonathan Deamer – 19

 Technologists / podcast software developers – although it is known to many
people as an entertainment or information medium, podcasting is at heart a
technology. As with much of the music and entertainment industry at the moment,
to move forward as a business may require the development of further technologies.
For this reason, it may be useful to consult with those that have been involved in the
development of podcasting technology in the past, and are likely to be involved in
any future developments.
 Podcast producers – the people who create the content itself, including those
involved with different types of podcast, in order to get a truly representative
spectrum of views. Such people could include interviewees from a podcast provider
also operating in the traditional broadcast audio sector (eg. radio), a podcast
provider from an organisation that has not traditionally worked with audio (eg.
newspapers), and the producer of a podcast that has already successfully been
 Advertising agencies – much of the monetisation of media has in the past relied
on advertising of some form, as do some of the business models outlined in this
Paper's literature review. It may be useful to consult with agencies involved in
advertising to gain their view of how it may be applied to this new media form.
 Advertisement-supported music companies – organisations such as We7
(UK) and Spiral Frog (US) provide MP3s by big name, major label artists for free to
the consumer, with the catch being that these tracks have targeted adverts
embedded in them. Do companies already operating under this business model
think it could also be applied to podcasting?
 Writers of previous academic reports into podcasting – likely to be
knowledgeable of a range of issues affecting podcasting, they may be able to
contribute some of the thoughts they've had since the publication of their papers.

This is of course a large potential research base. Ideally, a thorough investigation into
podcast business models would take into account all the factors involved, and consequently
would involve interviews with people from most (or all) of the areas outlined above. Due
to the restrictions in place on the writing of this paper, however, (eg. time, money, access
to some of the people outlined above) this is not possible, and so this paper will
concentrate on the conclusions that can be made based on a narrower research base.

Jonathan Deamer – 20

Firstly, I will rule out talking to technology experts or software developers. While their
perspective would no doubt be interesting and useful, they are somewhat removed both
from this Paper's subject matter (essentially, business), and my own academic discipline of
arts management. The input they could provide will be borne in mind, however, when
suggesting further research at the end of this Paper.

If it is decided that an advertising-related business model is the best way for podcasting to
progress, it may be useful to talk to both advertising agencies and advertisement-
supported music companies. At this stage however, it is uncertain as to what role
advertising will play in podcasting's future, and so to talk to them during the research of
this paper may be premature. Similarly, digital distributors are perhaps an excessively
narrow slice of those who will be using or implementing a podcast business model.

For these reasons, the research base will be restricted to those who are involved in the
production and provision of podcasts. Unlike distributors, who it could be argued operate
as accessories on the periphery of podcasting, content providers are at the core of the
medium, and are likely to have a good overview of the various issues involved. However, I
must be sure when choosing podcast providers to interview that these have sufficient
knowledge of the business/industry side of the medium to be of use, eg. not talking to the
“on-air talent”, but instead the management or businesspeople behind them and their

3.7 Which business models should be evaluated?

Having detailed a wide range of existing business models in the Literature Review, it is
appropriate to look at which of these could be applied to podcasting and if they are
consequently worth evaluating further in the main body of this Management Research

 Advertising – as described in the Literature Review, there are a number of

podcasts currently making attempts at monetisation using an advertising-based
model. Further, given the similarities between podcasting and other forms of
media, particularly radio, this model warrants further discussion.
 Markup – information or entertainment products like podcasts are not generally
bought from wholesalers and then resold via retail in the way that physical goods

Jonathan Deamer – 21

are, and so the markup model is not appropriate for this paper.
 Production – this could easily be applied to podcasting by selling the podcast file
to the consumer at a one-off fee larger than the cost of producing the recording in
the first place.
 Referral– it is possible to embed links to webpages within podcasts so that when
they are listened to on computer the listener will be told (both audibly and on-
screen) that they are able to follow a link, which will be displayed within the audio
playback software being used (eg. iTunes etc.). The referral business model could
consequently be applied, with purchase links being offered within a podcast to
download songs played or purchase products associated with topics of discussion on
the show (eg. Amazon affiliate links in a book review podcast).
 Commission – in terms of how it may be applied to podcasting, commission
differs little from referral. The main difference would be whether funds are
collecting for all referrals, or only those resulting in sales. For the purposes of this
paper though, they will be treated as a single model.
 Subscription – one of the most obvious potential business models, and one that
has had a degree of success for podcasting in the past, it is worth evaluating the
problems and future this method may have.
 “Freemium” - the idea of offering a basic version of a podcast for free, with an
enhanced or extended one available for a fee sounds initially as though it may be
workable. However, there are obvious weaknesses in this model; people may use
only the free version, never upgrading to the paid one. In addition, before this
method can be considered one must come to a conclusion as to whether any sort of
direct charge to the consumer (such as the merchant model) can form part of a
podcasting business model in the first place. For this reason, the feasibility of
“freemium” as a business model in itself will not be considered.
 Fee-for-service – as this is based on a variable charge to the consumer dependent
on their consumption, it could be used as a variant of the subscription model (or
others) rather than as a model in itself. Rather than a flat-fee for “all you can eat”
access to podcasts, levels of tiered pricing could be introduced. This method of
variable pricing may be discussed with interviewees as part of other models,
although it will not be discussed an a model in and of itself..
 Cross-subsidies – this is a model sometimes used at the moment, with companies
producing free podcasts in order to promote sales of their usual product. For

Jonathan Deamer – 22

example, Nintendo produced a podcast about the eagerly anticipated Legend of
Zelda videogame. However, this Paper is to investigate models than can offer a
revenue stream in their own right and so, while it is acknowledged that cross-
subsidies are an important part of podcasting as a medium, they do not warrant
further investigation here.
 Zero-marginal cost – it is true that podcasts currently being given away for free
are operating on a zero-marginal costs model. It does not offer an income stream in
itself though.
 Labour exchange – it is realistic to imagine some podcasts operating on a labour
exchange system in future whereby a brief amount of the user's time or efforts are
exchanged for access to a podcast, as explained in the Google example above. This
is a somewhat new idea, but given the newness of the medium it is worth discussing
slightly more innovative business models to gauge the reaction of those working in
the field.
 Gift economy – as this paper intends to find a financially profitable business
model, it is not appropriate to further examine the “gift economy” model as a

Having now excluded some of the previously examined business models from inclusion in
the rest of this Paper, it is worth further simplifying the remaining selection of models in
order to provide a framework that can be easily explained to, and discussed with,
interviewees. For this reason, referral and commission will be treated as variants on the
same model, and referred to simply as the “commission model” throughout the Paper.

Furthermore, it is the opinion of this writer that the use of advertising in a podcast is very
similar to having a single company or product sponsor the whole show; both involve an
third party paying money for exposure in the podcast. From this point on, “the
advertisement-supported model” will refer to the use of sponsorship or traditional
“commercial-break” style advertising.

Finally, due to the similarities in how the mark-up model and production model would
operate if applied to podcasts, and to prevent confusion with their potentially misleading
titles, the production model shall be referred to as the “merchant model”. As explained in
the literature review, this was the alternative name Rappa gave to the markup model. It

Jonathan Deamer – 23

also makes clear how under this model, each podcast is simply sold for a one of fee, like
buying a CD or DVD from a shop in the traditional entertainment economy.

3.8 A framework for research

The following models will be evaluated in pursuit of an answer to the question

“can a profitable business model be found for podcasting?”:
Labour exchange
Advertisement-based (sponsorship/traditional ads)

Jonathan Deamer – 24

4. Findings and analysis

4.1 General
Before any analysis of this paper's findings begins, it should be noted that early on in the
research it was found that the proposed methodology of solely interviewing those involved
in the actual production of podcasts was too narrow a research base to yield useful results.
It proved difficult to secure interviews with a sufficient number of people. For this reason,
it was decided to widen the research base to include people in other areas related to
podcasting, as defined in the methodology. Including people from seperate fields has the
added advantage that they may triangulate or corroborate each other's views. Interviews
were carried out with the following people:
 Mark Fox (Phone interview).
 Ben Hammersley (In-person interview).
 Tony Hughes & Simon Sprince (In-person interview).
 Mike Walsh (In-person interview).
 Tony Colman (Interview via e-mail correspondence, as he was unavailable for
face-to-face or phone interviews).

Further information on and biographies of the above are available in section 7.1 of this
Paper's Appendices.

A number of other people were approached who were either unwilling or unable to
participate in the research. None of their responses declining to be involved gave any
reason that would prove useful to the research – had they given a response such as “our
company is working on an innovative new business model and I am unable to comment
publicly”, this would of course have been worth including in these findings.

This Paper attempts to show all findings and opinions in relation to the specific proposed
business model that they address (below). However, analysis of all interview
transcriptions shows that there were two recurring themes that applied to this Paper's
question as a whole rather than any specific business model. These were:

 Whether finding a business model for podcasts defeats the object of many
organisations use of them (as promotional tools) in the first place.
 That looking for a single business model to apply to all podcasts in the way there is a

Jonathan Deamer – 25

single business model for broadcast radio (ie. advertising) may not be the correct

The first of these was summed up succinctly by Tony Colman, who believes that “in
general, as soon as you try to monetise podcasts, you come against 2 massive problems,
[one of which is that] you drastically cut your audience which makes it not worthwhile”
(Deamer 2008 e).

Mark Fox concurs, stating that:

“I think you'll lose a big proportion of your audience by actually monetising them
and you may actually hurt your other revenues through that. It's one of those things
where, in a young market, it'll just be trial and error to try to figure out what overall
gives the best overall revenue, not short-term revenue but what's best for your
fanbase overall”.
(Deamer 2008 b)

There is still not a consensus on this point however, given that Tony Hughes disagrees.
When asked if the use of podcasts for promotion or revenue is an either/or proposition, he
said, “I don't see why you can't do both. [...] It entirely depends on the context of what
you're trying to achieve” (Deamer 2008 c).

He continued this idea about a successful model being dependent on context (the second of
the above points) with what I took away as one of the key quotations from my interview
with him:

“I don't think there's a definitive [single business model], I think for different niches
there's gonna be different markets, and as Si [Simon Sprince] said it's all about the
desire of the consumer to get that”.
(Deamer 2008 c)

Hughes also gives examples of this, suggesting that it would be difficult to interrupt a hard-
hitting news piece with a light-hearted sponsorship slot, while this may be completely
possible on a light entertainment show.

Jonathan Deamer – 26

While my initial approach to the question was that podcasting is a new technology and new
form of media, Ben Hammersley also says that this is the wrong way to view things. He
says that methods of monetising podcasting may be no different to those used in radio, as
podcasting is simply time-shifted radio. He says to forget about the technology, as there's
nothing particularly special about downloading or RSS feeds – they're just new ways of
consuming content that has always existed (Deamer 2008 d).

Tony Hughes sums this idea up very well:

“You can get technology to do anything can't you? It's about finding a niche, and
finding a need that someone might have, and that's your opportunity. It's not about
the technology a lot of the time, it's about the idea, and the technology comes after.
A lot of the worst ideas are technology led”.
(Deamer 2008 c)

I believe this will be a key point to bear in mind when forming conclusions about
podcasting business models.

4.2 Merchant model

When first questioned on the viability of this model, Mike Walsh of X-FM says:

“I would like to think [people would pay on a per-podcast basis], because obviously
we would like to think that our content is so engaging that people would want to do
that! The reality is: would they? Because you are then talking about effectively
asking someone to buy something that is actually free-to-air”.
(Deamer 2008 a)

With reference to the merchant model, Tony Hughes takes a different approach. Rather
than charging for content that is otherwise available free-to-air, he says the success of a
merchant model depends on offering unique content. He gives the example of an NHS
specialist who approached his company to produce a podcast demonstrating a little-known
surgical technique, saying that although “theirs' wasn't a money making idea – it could be a
money-making idea, [and] if they were doctors in the states it probably would be” (Deamer
2008 c). Perhaps this is an example of the sort of engaging content Walsh mentions. It

Jonathan Deamer – 27

should be noted, however, that there may be some element of bias in Hughes' response:
given his company's involvement in this area, he is likely to view it favourably. However,
he does continue to provide an interesting possible answer to Walsh's above question:

“So anyone who's got privileged information, whether it be a thought, a philosophy,

a way of doing business, and wants to get it out there, people will pay for”.
(Deamer 2008 a)

This suggests that the successful use of the merchant model may rely on content that is not
otherwise available free-to-air. It should be noted that throughout his interview Hughes
shows a keenness for the use of micropayments (small payments made automatically upon
accessing content) in the media industry. Other interviewees may not have been
considering such small sums (he suggests 10p) when discussing the merchant model. The
economic viability of the suggestion that such podcasts may be sold for a price of 10p needs
to be considered in this paper's conclusions.

Further, while Tony Colman of Hospital Records does suggest that it's too late for a paid-
for model because “the model everyone expects is free” (Deamer 2008 e), he agrees with
Hughes in conceding that there may be space for the merchant model if “it's for a technical
podcast about deep sea cobalt mining etc. - something very specialised” (Deamer 2008 e).

Simon Sprince expands on this idea that niche or unique content is necessary for a
merchant-model, giving the example that, as a Led Zeppelin fan it would have to be Jimmy
Page (the band's guitarist) doing a podcast every week for him to want to part with cash as
opposed to getting content for free via another model (Deamer 2008 c). While this view is
useful in triangulating the above points about specialised content, we must remember that
Sprince was being interviewed simultaneously with Tony Hughes, and may consequently
have been unable to express his own opinions without influence. The fact that they are
both part of the same organisation also means that their individual views should not be
given the same weight as those of other individuals interviewed for this paper.

Mark Fox concurs with Tony Colman that a culture of free already exists around podcasts:

“I think people largely expect podcasts to be available for free and that might be a

Jonathan Deamer – 28

barrier to starting to charge for them, but if you provide something of value, again I
think audio tours of cities would be a good example, people are quite happy to pay
for that”.
(Deamer 2008 b)

He goes on to explain the importance of differentiating the content from that available
elsewhere, saying he feels the merchant model may be successfully applied to his example
of audio city tours because they offer numerous benefits over the alternative of following
20 other people and a tour guide – a good example of such differentiation.

4.3 Labour exchange model

This proved to be quite controversial among interviewees, with strong views both for and
against. Mark Fox fell into the latter camp, suggesting that:

“it's largely unsustainable and there's other methods that are far more attractive to
people. And again, when people are listening to podcasts they're likely to be doing
other things, and I think the sort of people who listen to podcasts probably regard
themselves as somewhat educated and above those sort of menial tasks”.
(Deamer 2008 b)

It should be borne in mind, however, that as an economist Mark Fox may take a slightly
traditional view of the sort of ways people are willing to pay for information goods. I found
throughout my interview with him that although, as a PhD graduate, he is of course hugely
knowledgeable of the business workings of new media, he had less of an understanding of
the technological or user experience sides. In the above quotation he is commenting on the
user experience in a way that, I believe, may show a lack of understanding of how people
use and consume new media. This may be supported by the fact that Mike Walsh, who in
his role as Head of Music is quite involved in the ways consumers access content, was quite
enthused in his support for the model:

“I think it's the kind of thing that, as long as the content is engaging enough, then
yeah I can see consumers wanting to do. As long as what they're doing for [the
content] is in some way rewarding and related to the content, which I guess it would
be. So yeah, I can really see that.”

Jonathan Deamer – 29

(Deamer 2008 a)

Ben Hammersley simply gave a quite emphatic “No!” at the initial suggestion of a labour
exchange model, subsequently explaining that with such a model:

“there's a massive mis-match between the perceived value of the little thing that
you've done and the value of a half-hour long program. Mechanical Turk [a similar
model currently in use by Amazon] works because it's a game, and you can see your
score going up and you might as well. It's like playing Scrabble on Facebook, you
just wanna see your score go up. Whereas quality media, you either get it for free,
ie. you turn on the radio, or you pay a lot of money for it”.
(Deamer 2008 d)

This is a similar user experience argument to that put forward by Mark Fox, but I believe it
has more credibility coming from a technologist who, owing to his work as a technology
correspondent for national newspapers, will also have an understanding of how lay people
may use such new media.

After some further explanation of how the model would work, with the labour required
from the user being presented in a fun and relevant way, he did become less sceptical, but
still said that, similarly to some of the suggestions made regarding the merchant model
above, “if you charge a premium, whether that's in cash or effort, the thing that you're
getting out of it better be awesome” (Deamer 2008 d).

Similarly, Tony Colman believes that similar problems apply to a labour exchange model as
a paid-for model, ie. “the reason podcasts are so successful and popular is that people feel
like they are getting something for nothing” (Deamer 2008 e).

4.4 Advertisement-based (sponsorship/traditional ads) model

When asked about how the broadcast media model of advertising (a particular area of his
expertise) could be applied to podcasting, Mark Fox thought that owing to the specialised
nature of many podcasts they allow adverts to be better targeted. He said that the

Jonathan Deamer – 30

“is more likely to listen to whatever advertising you include in a podcast than they
would do if it were on a radio show. [...] The trick is not to make advertising too
intrusive or too long. Sponsorship is one way of doing it, like sponsored shows, or
like just keeping it brief. 15 seconds can sound like a long time. And if you go
beyond that I think you'll start annoying people”.
(Deamer 2008 b)

Other interviewees also showed this leaning towards sponsorship, rather than commercial
break style adverts. Mike Walsh was questioned on how the problem of users fast-
forwarding through or skipping adverts in podcasts (which they are of course unable to do
with radio) could be overcome, and suggested that

“there will be a way in which you can get podcasts sponsored in a clever way. In
fact, you know, it happens all the time in this building actually. So we've got some
people upstairs called Creation who make a lot of podcasts and they will do like, you
know, the Ford Galaxy Guide to Restaurants podcasts [...] So I can see it being one
of two things: you know, it's the old sponsorship of a program model where the
sponsor is weaved into the content, or you pay a subscription to avoid that”.
(Deamer 2008 a)

Later in the interview Mike and I agreed that this method has many parallels with product
placement. Tony Hughes later bought up the idea of product placement-style sponsorship
in podcasts, explaining the importance of respecting the audience by marketing products
that are suited to a podcast's specific demographic in a way that fits with the content the
user is enjoying and potentially offers some form of added value (Deamer 2008 c). He
added that he believes the sort of audience that consumes podcasts is media-savvy enough
to be aware and understanding of the fact that some form of monetisation is necessary.
His colleague Simon Sprince was similarly quite keen that sponsorship, rather than
commercial break style advertising was the simple answer to the question of how one can
monetise a podcast, saying:

“It's just like when programs used to be sponsored back in the 50s – Brighto
toothpaste brings you The Simpsons. And I think that's how you monetise it –
you've gotta develop something that fits with a brand. It's knowing your audience

Jonathan Deamer – 31

isn't it?”.
(Deamer 2008 c)

Hughes also gave some examples of what the “clever way” of avoiding the problems of
users skipping adverts (as hinted at by Mike Walsh) may be, drawing parallels to
television hard-disk recorders by saying that although they do allow people to skip adverts,
people end up consuming more content by using them. They won't always skip the
adverts, and will ultimately end up being exposed to more of them. He adds that having
the public consume more content also allows the more efficient use of product placement
as more people are watching programmes. In essence, Hughes believes that the fact that
podcasting allows people to consume more content, even if this is sometimes without the
intended advertising, is beneficial to those taking payment for advertising (Deamer 2008

On the same topic, Ben Hammersley proposed that any problems of people skipping over
adverts could simply be factored in to the pricing structure of such advertisement-space,
suggesting that a similar structure is currently in place for television advertisements, and
that much of the answer would lie in making adverts unskippable, not in terms of the
technology, but because they are useful or valuable content to the listener. While this is
very much in agreement with the sentiments of other interviewees, it should not be taken
as gospel on its own. While this is true of any interviewee's views, it is especially true in
this case given that, as discussed previously, Hammersley's area of expertise is on
technology and user experience, rather than advertising. His opinion is given somewhat
more credence by the fact that others more specialised in this side of media (Hughes and
Sprince in Deamer 2008 c) offer similar judgements.

Again on the topic of whether users would actually listen to adverts in podcasts, Mark Fox
also thought that owing to the different ways people consume podcasts when compared to
television via a hard-disk recorder, people skipping through adverts is less likely to be an
issue with the former than the latter. He said “intuition tells me that people are less likely
to skip forward because of the relative briefness of the ads, and the potential for actually
wasting time by misjudging it and having to go back” (Deamer 2008 b). His summary at
the end of my interview with him also singled out that he saw a sponsorship-based model
as the one with the most potential, although it should be noted that he didn't really think

Jonathan Deamer – 32

the medium offered great profit-making opportunities in general.

In addition to his comments above on sponsorship, it is particularly noteworthy that before

I had chance to raise the topic Simon Sprince suggested it himself as an alternative to a
paid-for model, saying

“you can create a podcast round any subject now, and you just do it because that's
what you like doing, there's a global market online, iTunes and so on, and if you can
market it well you can get it up there. The business model is around offering a
sponsorship opportunity around that, it's not about consumers paying to be part of
that podcast”.
(Deamer 2008 c)

4.5 Commission model

There was much discussion of a commission-based model in my interview with Ben
Hammersley, in which he voiced 2 main concerns:

 The nature of the model dictates that it will work best with products that can be
bought online to satisfy an immediate want (eg. MP3s), as opposed to those where
advertising is intended as part of a brand-building exercise, not an immediate call to
action. This consequently excludes industries that traditionally spend a large
amount on advertising and have high-cost products (which obviously increase the
amount of commission available): clothing, cars, perfume, luxury goods. In essence,
the revenue streams provided by this model would be very limited.
 If podcast producers were to receive commission based on sales of products
advertised during their show, would this affect editorial content? For example,
would product reviews remain unbiased?
(Deamer 2008 d)

As mentioned previously, although Hammersley is very knowledgeable about the media as

a whole beyond his field of specialisation, advertising is not his area of expertise. It would
therefore be difficult to place too much importance in his subjective views on this subject.
However, the idea that people are unlikely to buy high-value products through a click-
through advertisement, while not backed up by any particular research, does seem logical

Jonathan Deamer – 33

enough to believe.

While his second point is reasonable – editorial content may indeed be compromised by
financial concerns – this seems to call into question the whole media industry practice of
using any sort of advertisement funding. It is acknowledged that there may be more
potential or incentive for corruption when the content producer themselves stands to
benefit from increased sales on a commission basis, but it is outside of the scope of this
paper to evaluate to what extent this is the case. Given Tony Hughes' assertions above that
consumers are media-savvy enough to understand and appreciate the commercial need for
advertising and similar, Hammersley's second concern will be taken into account, but not
viewed as a major issue with the model. Furthermore, while space precludes its inclusion
here, this Paper's appendix does include a lengthy discussion (as part of my interview with
Hughes, Deamer 2008 d) on how shows such as Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm are
able to include product placement, advertising and so on unobtrusively without
compromising their integrity or alienating their audience, concluding that doing so is
indeed possible.

(One should note in addition that, while the topic of how advertising affects consumer trust
is also applicable to the sponsorship/advertisement-based model, it is examined here due
to its pertinence in evaluating Hammersley's concerns).

Mike Walsh explains that XFM currently operates a limited commission-based model via
their website, rather than directly through podcasts, stating “I guess we do it to a degree
with iTunes actually; we get a kickback from iTunes for people that we send to iTunes”
(Deamer 2008 a). He does however concede that XFM and parent company GCAP would
like to further investigate this area. Tony Colman's main criticism of this model, however,
is that it would drive both online traffic and attention away from Hospital Records – the
opposite of their podcasts' key intention, monetised or not (Deamer 2008 e). Mark Fox
also pointed out that “because of the nature of the content people might have it going while
they're doing other things, so they're relatively unlikely to click through, and I imagine if
you were to try that the click through rate would be very low” (Deamer 2008 b). He
believed that even if these podcasts were listened to at a computer, many users would be
multi-tasking and so the same affect would be felt.

Jonathan Deamer – 34

4.6 Subscription model
Mike Walsh of XFM gives his take on the subscription model follows:

“Something that I do believe is going to become more prevalent, and how XFM fits
in to this I've got some ideas that we trying to kind of navigate at the moment, is
artists doing business through their own websites. So if you're a fan of, I dunno,
Manic Street Preachers, why wouldn't you pay a monthly subscription to their
domain that is everything you ever want from them? [...] I do believe that that's how
business will be done in future”.
(Deamer 2008 a)

Mark Fox says of the subscription model “I think to a large extent [in order to be a business
proposition] it needs to be content that's different to what's offered through other
mediums” (Deamer 2008 b), because many of the examples of podcasts in his previous
papers have been for content that is already available on radio and “if I can get this
content elsewhere for free, why should I pay for it?” (Deamer 2008 b). This ties in very
well with what Mike Walsh says on the subscription model above, and his (and Hughes')
earlier thoughts on the merchant model that people will not pay for content that is also
available free-to-air.

Tony Hughes goes some way to rejecting the idea of a subscription model altogether,

“I don't think people would subscribe to [podcasts], I think it works better with a
one-off. [...] Why would I pay 20 quid to The Guardian when I don't know if all of
those topics are going to be relevant to me? I've got increasingly less time to look at
all this stuff...”
(Deamer 2008 c)

Ben Hammersley states that “I would say [subscription's] the business model that's really
good” (Deamer 2008 d), for two key reasons:
 “psychologically it's cheaper” (Deamer 2008 d) - it's easier to get the user to pay £20
for 6 months subscription up front than it is to get them to pay 79p per week for 6

Jonathan Deamer – 35

 “it just ties in with podcasting, because you want it to be automatic. Y'know,
downloaded, you wake up in the morning and it's there” (Deamer 2008 d).

He further expounds on the consumption of the medium in one-off chunks as opposed to

serial form, suggesting that some podcast content more readily lends itself to a
subscription model. He gives the example of a series of stand-alone programmes like
Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time (offered via podcast from BBC Radio 4) versus episodic
content like Russell Brand's Radio 2 podcast, which requires listening over multiple weeks
to get the full enjoyment and is thus well suited to a subscription model. He also adds that
people are more likely to want archived previous instalments of shows like In Our Time
where each instalment is completely self-contained, and these could be offered individually
under the merchant model (Deamer 2008 d).

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5. Conclusions

5.1 General remarks

A secondary result of the interviews carried out for this Paper is that a lot of opinions have
been discovered on the topic of how each proposed model could be implemented, rather
than which of them would be best economically. One might conclude from this that those
involved in podcasting have more expertise on the user experience and technological sides
of the argument than the business side. Much of the development of podcasting in future
may therefore be done on a trial-and-error basis of testing consumer response rather than
a strategic and systemic approach to increasing revenue – a suggestion also put forward by
Mark Fox (Deamer 2008 b).

It must be acknowledged that at this stage in the medium's development, there are few
people who are knowledgeable about both podcasting and financial matters. This is
reflected in this Paper's selection of interviewees. Further research may benefit from
discussions with someone who is au fait with the general media business, even if they lack
a specialisation in podcasting. This Paper's methodology could have benefited from
targeting such a person to be involved in the research. Otherwise, it is felt that the
research methods employed were generally appropriate and successful. However, the
previously rejected consumer focus groups or questionnaires could now be employed to
further confirm or augment the conclusions.

It can also be concluded that an holistic view of various elements (including podcasting,
technology, marketing, business, consumer behaviour) is necessary in analysing this topic.
While all interviewees are experts in their respective areas, few had studied the various
fields involved in the same depth as the writer of this Paper.

5.2 Merchant model

As is clear from the Findings section of this Paper, it is generally felt that if the merchant
model is to be successful, it will need to offer unique and somewhat exclusive content.
Furthermore, there will likely be a negative consumer response if podcasts that were once
available for free start charging for access.

Based on these two points, it would be very difficult to simply apply the merchant model to

Jonathan Deamer – 37

podcasts that are already available in an attempt to monetise the existing content,
infrastructure and market (eg. one cannot charge for a podcast of a radio show that is also
available free-to-air). It is interesting however that television hard-disk recording systems
like Sky+ effectively do this by charging a subscription fee for the right and ability to record
previously free-to-air programmes. Further research could be done into why consumers
may view this differently to a merchant model.

There is no consensus, however, as to what price the merchant model should charge if it
were to be implemented. Many of the discussions with interviewees used 79p as an
example price, given that this is the cost of downloading a single track from iTunes. This is
a somewhat arbitrary figure however, based on the cost of production for the music
industry rather than the broadcast media industry. Further, a markedly different method
of charging “micropayments” was also suggested. Simple financial calculations show that
this is only likely to bring large revenue streams for content that is consumed by a large
number of people; this is in stark contrast to the suggestion that a premium could be
charged for exclusive or niche content.

Consequently, this Paper has had a degree of success in suggesting how the merchant
model may be applied in a way that is palatable to the consumer. However, further
research is necessary into an appropriate pricing structure to be used under this model,
given that the costs of producing the unique content demanded may be higher than the
costs of podcast production. While the merchant model may be accepted by the consumer,
it remains to be seen whether it will be a meaningfully profitable proposition.

5.3 Labour exchange model

The general concerns expressed by most interviewees could be broken down into two main

 Users would not be happy to complete small tasks in return for access to content.
 There would not be enough potential profit in this to make it worthwhile for content

The fact that these concerns were expressed almost uniformly by interviewees from a range
of backgrounds does lead one to conclude that the labour exchange model is inappropriate

Jonathan Deamer – 38

for podcasting at this stage. It is arguably the best example seen in this paper of the sort of
technology-led (as opposed to user or business-led) solution that both Ben Hammersely
(Deamer 2008 d) and Tony Hughes (Deamer 2008 c) said should be avoided.

However, Mike Walsh's enthusiasm for this model, and the views on it expressed in the
literature review (albeit not specifically related to its use in a podcasting context) do
preclude one from ruling out its use altogether in the media industry. Given the reactions
seen in this Paper's findings though, it is reasonable to think that it may be some time until
both the industry and the consumer is comfortable enough to use this model in quantities
large enough to create profitable economies of scale.

5.4 Advertisement-based model

Discussions of this model centred primarily on two topics:

 Whether any sort of advertisement-funded model was appropriate.

 If so, whether it would be better to use sponsorship of whole shows, or commercial-
break style adverts.

Most interviewees agreed that an advertisement-funded model is likely to work in some

instances, with some interviewees even claiming that they believe it is the model that offers
the most potential for profit. While further research and possibly real world testing would
be required to see if the latter of these points is true, one can conclude that some form of
advertisement-funding may form part of any successful podcasting business model.

It was also agreed that the problem of consumers skipping through adverts is unlikely to be
a problem in the way that it has been with time-shifted television. This is especially true if
a sponsorship-based model is used as opposed to commercial-break style adverts.

Because of the sometimes niche audiences of podcasts, the success of an advertisement-

based model is also dependent on having well targeted adverts that are likely to be of
interest to the listener, and actually add value to the content, be it through offering
additional entertainment or useful information to the listener. Ads are also likely to be
better received by the consumer if they are incorporated unobtrusively and almost
seamlessly into the core content.

Jonathan Deamer – 39

Consequently, one can conclude that a profitable podcast business model is likely to
include some element of sponsorship-based advertising.

5.5 Commission-based model

While opinion is not uniform enough to come to many definite conclusions about this
model, it is felt that Hammersley and Fox's concerns about its profitability are legitimate
enough to raise serious doubts about its utility as a stand-alone business model in its own
right. As seen with XFM's current use of a similar commission model, there is a possible
revenue stream here, but it seems to be truly profitable it will require combination with
one of the other models discussed.

Despite concerns to the contrary, it is possible to operate a commission-based advertising

system while maintaining the trust of the audience and integrity of the content. Any
podcast producers who implement this model, however, will want to consider what the
priorities of their production are (promotion or profit), as a commission-based model can
divert attention, web traffic and interest from the subject of the podcast itself.

5.6 Subscription-based business model

Opinion is almost evenly split on this model. It seems that there is profit potential in a
subscription based model, but only in very specific circumstances. Similarly to the
merchant model, its success depends on content that is unavailable elsewhere; it will not
be possible to offer a paid-for subscription to, for example, a regular free-to-air radio show.

However, for high-quality niche content, a premium subscription fee could be charged.

5.7 Summary of conclusions

 Any method of monetisation may reduce the size of the podcast's audience and
detract from its value as a promotional tool for an organisation's other products.
 The negative impact of monetisation in the form of advertising or sponsorship can
be minimised by ensuring this is highly targeted to the listener's interests, adds
value to the content and is included in an unobtrusive and entertaining way.
 It is not possible to apply the same business model to all podcasts in the same way
that an advertising model is applied across all (non-public service) television. The

Jonathan Deamer – 40

choice of business model is highly dependent on context, and the type of content
(rather than the medium) one wishes to monetise
 There is more crossover between the different models than expected – profitability
can be increased by applying multiple models to a single podcast. This is truest in
the case of the commission model, which could be applied as an additional revenue
stream to a podcast operating primarily under another model.
 The business model that is likely to prove profitable in the widest range of cases is
 Models that require the listener to part with cash (subscription/merchant) will
likely only work in the case of high-quality specialised content that is unavailable
elsewhere. Their profitability may be limited by the fact that such content may have
a limited or niche audience, but as such it may be possible to charge a premium
 Further research is necessary into:
 How consumers may respond to the models that are concluded to be
 What it is that makes the Sky+ method of paying for the convenience of
time-shifting acceptable to the consumer, and how this could be applied
to the merchant model.
 An appropriate pricing structure for use in an implementation of the
merchant model in podcasting.
 Exactly how much profit potential there is in the advertising model.

Jonathan Deamer – 41

6. Bibliography
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7. Appendix

7.1 Biographies of interviewees

 Tony Colman – founder and A&R of drum and bass label Hospital Records.
Produces and hosts the label's popular podcast, which is ninth in the iTunes music
podcast chart at the time of writing (iTunes 2008). Also a musician in his own right
under the name London Elektricity. (Interview via e-mail correspondence).
 Mark Fox – economics PhD and professor of Management and Entrepreneurship
at Indiana University, USA. Has written a number of papers on broadcasting and
the music industry, most notably “Podcasting: a new technology in search of viable
business models”, discussed in this Paper's literature review. (Phone interview).
 Ben Hammersley – author of 3 books on RSS, the underlying technology behind
podcasts. Former technology correspondent for The Times and The Guardian,
where he coined the term podcasting in 2004. (In-person interview).
 Tony Hughes – assistant director of the International Centre for Digital Content, a
Liverpool John Moores University media lab, where he works on research and
development projects with new media companies. Also established a business
centre for digital media start-ups in 2002, and previously worked for Mersey
Television. (In-person interview). Fellow assistant director of ICDC, Simon
Sprince, also made some contributions to this interview.
 Mike Walsh – Head of Music at national radio station X-FM, and heavily involved
in the production of their numerous podcasts. X-FM is part of the GCAP Media
group which also owns Classic FM amongst others. (In-person interview).

Jonathan Deamer – 45